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  1. #1
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    Using MARKING FLAGS to improve trail design

    I am designing a singletrack trail system at my ski area. I am a MTB trail design NOVICE. I have 170 acres and have finished marking about 12 miles of trail. Yesterday I started to fine-tune the design, modifying route just a tad to better lines I did not see before and roughing the trail corridor so that volunteers can start working on it.

    I HAD PROBLEMS ROUTING A FEW TIGHTER CORNERS, initially taking them one way, then looking again from different angles and finding that it would have been better (more fluid/flowy, better corner radius) to route them a different way. In one corner I cut a few 3-4 inch cherry trees on the outside, only to find that was not necessary. Do not like cutting trees, especially in error!! My situation is made more difficult as trees in many areas of my property are very close together with lots of bushes and smaller trees.

    I am wondering if anybody USES WIRE MARKING FLAGS SPACED CLOSELY TOGETHER to help see/mark the best line?? After time I'd guess that trail design experts gather enough experience that this process is easy, but WHEN YOU WERE BEGINNING did you use flags or any other method to help you see the best route?? Please explain.

    (Break to politely send Jehovas witnesses on their way.)

    Hopefully I'll get some good input on this. Thanks in advance, ...tom
    Last edited by snowkraft; 04-22-2015 at 07:55 AM. Reason: Grammar

  2. #2
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    Marking flags should be used for any significant trail layout project. Pretty common knowledge actually.

    I vary flag spacing based on how twisty the trail is which can range from 5' to 20' apart for the initial rough flagging. After that, I come back and define the lower edge of the trail with flags spaced every 3' so volunteers have a good reference line to follow when benching. Just like IMBA teaches in their trailbuilding classes.

  3. #3
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    Use 'em by the hundreds.
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  4. #4
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    I always use a lot more flags on tight turns, like every 2-3' on small radius turns.

    Another thing to consider is using irrigation pipe to help lay out your turns. What you do is take long sections of small diameter PVC irrigation pipe, plug them together into a long section, and lay them on the ground where you want to put your turns. The pipe will want to stay straight, and thus will form well-arched turns. See this post by slocaus for an example Flow Trail Advice- Mtbr.com

  5. #5
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    Thanks to All-- That is an exc. idea. Will try some pipe. Have been using marking tape and marking flags, but at much greater intervals. Will add more.

    I have found fullsource.com and Forestry Suppliers to be about the same price wise shipping factored in. Fullsource.com may be just a bit cheaper. Is there a chepaer place to buy that I am not aware of?? ..thanks

    Found an insertion tool for half price on eBay: Presco Products Co SFP36 188 Marking Stake Flag Carrier w Probe 36" | eBay Hopefully this will work well.

    Quote Originally Posted by BonkedAgain View Post
    I always use a lot more flags on tight turns, like every 2-3' on small radius turns.

    Another thing to consider is using irrigation pipe to help lay out your turns. What you do is take long sections of small diameter PVC irrigation pipe, plug them together into a long section, and lay them on the ground where you want to put your turns. The pipe will want to stay straight, and thus will form well-arched turns. See this post by slocaus for an example Flow Trail Advice- Mtbr.com
    Last edited by snowkraft; 04-22-2015 at 10:01 AM. Reason: Addition

  6. #6
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    I haven't used this company myself, but I am considering ordering some printed flags from them https://www.blackburnflag.com/ Worth a look. If anyone has any experience with them I would like to hear about it.

  7. #7
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    When using the flags, it is important that you remain consistent in their use. If you have enough, and want to make sure builders follow you lines, then you can mark both sides of the line. If not, choose one side, preferably the up hill side to set your boundaries. I have found that a clearly defined line leads to a more productive build with less confusion or mistakes. I recently lead a community project where we had over 120 builders knock out nearly 1 mile of single track in one day. It was all of the pre-planning (flags every 3-10 feet) that really kept it on track.

    If you are using others to help, it is very important that you also have knowledgeable trail bosses who are completely aware of your markings and intent. It made all of the difference for us.

    As far a marking flags, I know you can get irrigation flags very cheap at a home improvement store and if you have time, probably even cheaper through the net. 12 miles of trails? You need A LOT of flags. Best of luck.
    Apathy will get you exactly what you deserve

  8. #8
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    use flags rather routinely. your local homedepot or lowes will have them... Empire 2.5 in. x 3.5 in. Red Stake Flags (100-Pack)-78-007 - The Home Depot

    also in Western NY we have plenty of leaf litter, I ride the proposed line on a fat bike to get a feel and will often simply leaf blow the proposed tread line,, the back pack leaf blowers do a great job. this gives us a good sense of what we are thinking and don't have to keep moving flags out of the way....

  9. #9
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    I've used pin flags for years but they are awkward to carry, poke holes in packs and they tend to get all bent up which makes them hard to reuse. Lately I've been using flourescent plastic feather streamers on 20 penny nails. They can be walked on and even driven on with heavy equipment without damage, are easy to pack around and can be reused indefinately. Only drawbacks are you need to carry a hammer to install them if the ground is hard and they may not be as visible in thick underbrush. I like the pvc pipe idea mentioned above. I use a 300 foot tape measure which gives a pretty good visualization of the routing when rolled out on the ground.

  10. #10
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    I use flagging ribbon for general route layout. Sometimes in different colors if I am considering a couple of different routes. Pin flags work well for final layout because they are easy to see and help you understand your layout. The plastic survey whiskers work really well for long term layout, where you may not be coming back to build for months or years.

    The flags are your way of conveying your ideas to the builders, so where your ideas are more complex, use many more flags spaceed more closer together. I also use paired flags at the bottom of dips, top of grade reversals and around curves to help guide people to build where you want them to build.

    You can get flagging ribbon and pin flags at any home improvement store. Survey whiskers you have to purchase either on-line or at a survey supply store. The 20p nails to use with them are also available at a home improvement store.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by twright205 View Post
    use flags rather routinely. your local homedepot or lowes will have them... Empire 2.5 in. x 3.5 in. Red Stake Flags (100-Pack)-78-007 - The Home Depot

    also in Western NY we have plenty of leaf litter, I ride the proposed line on a fat bike to get a feel and will often simply leaf blow the proposed tread line,, the back pack leaf blowers do a great job. this gives us a good sense of what we are thinking and don't have to keep moving flags out of the way....
    Yeah, we've got a lot of leaves also and a couple initial runs with the blowers help a ton and save a bunch of raking.
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  12. #12
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    I use pin flags all the time. I space them 5-6 feet apart, and I've never really had any questions, even from the rawest volunteers, about where the line goes after I've explained how the flags work. I wouldn't even consider putting a trail in without them.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    I use pin flags all the time. I space them 5-6 feet apart, and I've never really had any questions, even from the rawest volunteers, about where the line goes after I've explained how the flags work. I wouldn't even consider putting a trail in without them.
    This. Hard to understand doing anything else.
    I'm a mountain bike guide in South West Utah

  14. #14
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    Thanks for all the good ideas. I used a 300 ft. tape measure as recommended and that was helpful. It allowed me to see the LINE much betr. Will continue to do that in difficult areas. Blowing leaves also sounds like a good idea to betr see the line.

    I will be ordering a copious quantity of pin flags. CHEAPEST flags in bulk I have found to be, as I mentioned before, fullsource.com or Forestry Suppliers. Forestry Suppliers is cheapest, at $4.85 per 100 flags in quantities over 10, and could possibly be cheaper in larger quantities. Their shipping, however, is outrageous, and adds at least $1 per 100 flags, so flags are closer to $6 total cost and are close to what the fullsource.com total would be with shipping. Still, this saves maybe $2.50 over Home Depot taking into consideration tax.

    Thanks for all the great info!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ...tom

  15. #15
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    I'm fortunate enough to have lots of sticks & twigs available, and soft ground, so for me it's a pair of hand pruners and a couple of rolls of flagging tape. If the ground is too hard to push them in, a dot of marker paint can usually be seen from the last flag.

    Edit: tie your tape on the twig and THEN cut it.
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  16. #16
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    I have a holster for pin flags made from a length of pvc pipe and an end cap. Use whatever diameter pipe would be practical for your uses. I rigged a couple of d-rings onto it so I could attach a shoulder strap.

  17. #17
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    I use pin flags all the time. I space them 5-6 feet apart, and I've never really had any questions, even from the rawest volunteers, about where the line goes after I've explained how the flags work. I wouldn't even consider putting a trail in without them.
    Flagging tape to rough in the alignment and then pin flag to refine it. You won't have to buy 12,000 flags since you will pull and reuse after you build a section. Tell your vounteers to straighten them after they pull them, otherwise rebending flags gets old quick.

    I also made a PVC holster with a piece of webbing & carabiner so I can hang it off my belt as I flag.

    I'd highly, highly advise getting an experienced trail builder to walk your alignment with you before building. Another set of eyes is always a good idea.

  18. #18
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    The PVC pipe sounds like a great idea for maintaining raidus on turns.

    If PVC pipe is too bulky, another method is to set a center pin, then use at least an 8' length of string/tape to mark out the radius. 8' seems huge on foot, but tiny on a bike. Consider 10'-12' for a more flowing turn, and keeping the profile of the radius more similar to the outside of the eye of a needle, rather than a straight "U" shape.

  19. #19
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    The PVC idea had me thinking. It sounds like a great way to put in radii curves in wooded and brush areas where the stake and string method is not feasible. As hankthespacecowboy mention, PVC sounds bulky. Would using collapsible tent poles that you could join together into a really long section work better, or would they be too flexy?

  20. #20
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    One of my pet peeves is trails that make unexpected jags to go around trees. Either back out and realign the longer section or cut the tree down. Just my 2 cents. And don't be afraid to liberally use flags.

  21. #21
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    Thanks for the great info!!! PVC to hold flags is an excellent idea. I have found also that a small D ring on your belt works well. Rubber band the ends of a few hundred flags together. The only negative is when few flags remain they can slip thru the D ring.

    I also do not like trees that create an interruption to good flow. Some seem to like this, but on a nicely designed flowing trail it is somewhat the same as running into a sharp turn- a rhythm interruptor. For advanced, twisty trail, fine.

    I do now have a good volunteer trailbuilder helpim ng me from time to time. She has been helpful. I still am going to find someone to help with banked corners, as the person helping me does not have experience with this.

    I have been working all day, every day tweaking the design I laid out. Saturday a few friends helped build a quarter mile section and riding it found it to be fun and flowy. If the rest of the trail rides as well I'll be happy.

  22. #22
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    Yeah to lots of pin flags and at times the right tape measure, clinometer and wood stakes make all the difference.

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  23. #23
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    Hey gang I would like to get your opinions on the Flagshooter. Would this be a good fit for trail layout? It sprays marking paint and inserts marking flags. Check out the videos to get a better understanding of how it works here www.flagshooter.com I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks

  24. #24
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    Unless you are really experienced, or just don't care, you'll be rewalking alignments and moving flags to get things just so. As well as the fact that it'd be a cumbersome item to deal with on the steep, rocky, brushy, spiny terrain where we work. I like being able to have both hands free until I need to pin a flag to keep from landing on my azz. When I'm not flagging, I can either leave it on my belt or stuff it in my pack out of the way.

    I've never been worn out from the flag pinning part of the exercise anyway, bushwacking up and down is what gets you. If you are in more moderate open terrain, maybe it's different.

    We have a spray marking gun that is identical to the left side of that unit, we don't use that either for the reasons above.

  25. #25
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    I looked at your product when I was buying flags. Price was an issue, and I had no need for paint. I did buy a cheaper marking flag "gun," ($50) and it worked well, but did not use it at all due to it being cumbersome. You make a nice product, but probably not the best for most trailbuilders.

  26. #26
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    Thanks for the feedback guys. snowkraft what flag "gun" did you purchase? There is a Flagshooter that doesn't have the paint attachment on it, which is more economical and lighter. I found this forum in my random Google search related to our products, and thought I would reach out to see if there was a fit. While at this point the Flagshooter may not be the cat's meow for trail marking we do offer regular pin flags with a price point that is quite competitive. I look forward to future comments. Thanks

  27. #27
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    This is obviously not as nice as yours. I found it for $50 on ebay. Now that I think about it, the tip bent fairly easily, so maybe it is a cheaper Chinese copy. Usually they sell for more like $100.

    Presco Marking Flag Insertion Tool SFP36 - Engineer Supply

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coldfriction View Post
    ... collapsible tent poles that you could join together into a really long section...
    That sounds like a really good idea.

  29. #29
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    Avoid Home-Depot and other "generic" hardware store if you have to buy pin flags in bulk. I get mine from a land surveying shop. 4"x5"/36" for about 130$/box of 1000 (before rebate). We found that the only color you can easily follow year-round is pink and a long-ish stake (30" min). Other colors tend to disappear in the forest. The metal stake can also be used to test the soil hardness, presence of rocks, water, etc.

    Marking tape have variable quality. Make sure you at least use 3 season grade. Personally, I prefer "winter" tape as it's a little bit ticker and can survive our harsh winter, so we can still follow the route the next year.

    My crew is trained to follow various color of marking tape. Based on the color of the tape, location of knot, number of knot, the crew can dig by themselves. We use pin flags only when we work with volunteers or in very, very tight spots.


    Disclaimer: I sell handtools and marking flags in eastern Canada. We virtually tested every option out there in the last 17 years.
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  30. #30
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    Stick flags!!!

    Pin flags cost a good amount of money that could be better used for other stuff. The last few years I have been just using rolls of flagging tape and sticks or rocks.

    If the ground is duffy/soft you can push a stick in to the ground and tie a little flagging to it, which is what I mainly do. If the ground is hard you can tie flagging to a stick or wrap some flagging around a rock and lay it on the ground. you can get hundreds of stick flags for about five bucks, then by beer with the money saved!
    Epic trails get built in the Northwest by epic people!

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